Motivational Mondays: Comic Book Researcher Mara Whiteside

, by Zoë Gulliksen

Starting today, the theme here on Bookishbelle is Motivational Mondays, where I interview the people I've met online who motivate and inspire me through their career choices and adventurous lives. When I came up with this idea, I knew the first person I wanted to formally talk with was my dear friend Mara Whiteside. Mara and I became fast friends at the end of last year as a result of discussing The Hobbit movie on Twitter. Since then we constantly text about our geek filled lives and she has given me tremendous advice & support every time I have needed it.

Mara is a terribly fascinating person. She is currently a Psychology Doctoral Student at the University of Central Arkansas where one of her topics of research is how comic books and graphic novels can be educational and therapeutic to children. She is also the comic section editor at NerdSpan, a writer for various sites, and an avid comic book collector as well as cosplayer. 

I still have this issue!
It's my mom's copy,
seeing as mine was
destroyed by youthful
Z: What was the first comic book you read that really meant something to you?

M: I was lucky growing up. I had a mom who collected, read, and shared her comic books (to a certain extent) with her grubby-handed kids. I don’t really remember a time where I wasn’t exposed, in one format or another, to comic books or the heroes featured in them. I do remember one comic in particular that, for whatever reason, meant something to me as a kid. 

Mom would take us to the comic book shop so she could pick up her issues. Every once in a while, we were allowed to pick out a comic book to read. One time, I followed her lead and picked up a Supergirl comic book. The cover was awesome! It had a #1 on the cover! My mom was reading it! I had my own copy! It was the perfect storm. Never mind that I had no idea what was going on in the issue (trust me – I read that comic book over and over when I was young; it was beyond my 7-year-old comprehension). I don’t think it was the content of the comic that meant a lot to me. Rather, I’d say it was the opportunity to have my own fun reading material that mimicked my mom’s preferences.

Z: Could you go into detail about your research process and what you’re interested in knowing more about?

M: I am currently working on my doctorate in school psychology, so I tend to look at comics from an educational perspective. I’ve read countless articles and books about the reading practices in schools and the inability of students to love and understand what they read (for those interested, I recommend Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide as a starting point). It’s a shame that so many students are losing their love of reading because course requirements do not reflect their developmental stage or cognitive abilities. I mean, most of the high school required reading was originally written for adult readers. Teenagers are at a disadvantage cognitively at the get-go. Rarely do readers find these books enjoyable and seek out more reading after graduation.

 As a student, I aim to empirically support the use of reading material that meets students where they are and teach the techniques they need for more advanced reading. All the while, I hope to be able to inspire students to develop a taste for reading. My dissertation will be looking at how graphic novels, used as a supplement in a classroom, can increase reading comprehension and motivation to read. In the meantime, I like doing side projects that have something to do with the therapy process in general.

Last year, a colleague (Allen Thomas, @80Grey) and I presented research on gender differences in a comic book shop and a content analysis of female comic book characters. The reception was amazing, especially considering it was a psychology conference. This year, we will be talking about transportation (readers’ ability to connect and become part the stories they read) differences between comic books and text-only narrative. The idea behind the transportation study is to provide an empirical foundation for support of graphic novels and comic books in bibliotherapy. In short, I look at the educational and therapeutic applications of comic books and graphic novels.

The proposal issue!
I'll be getting it framed soon
Z: Not too long ago you were given a pretty awesome wedding proposal, how did your fiancé, Matt, pull it off?

M: It was adorable. He had been secretly collecting comic book issues featuring weddings for weeks. One Wednesday, I was bombarded with wedding comic books everywhere I went. My car, my office, my comic book stores, my apartment…It all cumulated with Fantastic Four Annual #3, the wedding of Sue Storm and Reed Richards. Then he asked if I would be the Sue Storm to his Reed Richards. Afterwards, we ate pizza and played Mortal Kombat. 

Z: What three comic books would you recommend people to check out? 

M: That’s a hard one. There are so many great issues out there! All of these are going to be series or runs because it’s way to hard to narrow down to one issue! First, check out Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising. It’s a great horror/suspense comic that features women. The first two volumes are out, but I recommend buying it month to month. It’s a smaller publisher, so YOUR DOLLAR COUNTS!

Next, read Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl run. There are 24 issues, and you can find them on ComiXology. If you only want to read one, I recommend giving issue #17 a try. It will steal your heart. Finally, look at Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel. It is so nice to see solo and team female books revitalized in the Marvel company. After X-23 was cancelled, I nearly lost it. Marvel’s decision to green-light Captain Marvel, Red She-Hulk, Fearless Defenders, X-Men, and Uncanny X-Force (an equal balance of men and women!) is the best decision that company could make. I am a sucker for Marvel women, and I will throw my money at any book that features them. Now, if we could just get Spider-Woman her own series again…

Mara & Matt
cosplaying as Zatanna & Constantine

You can find Mara on the Internet at the places linked below. (I must mention that when I asked her to send me links, she first emailed me pictures of Link from Zelda. This is why we are friends.)

Where I am the section editor for Comics!

Where I write comic book reviews!

Where I write about books!

Because I’m a book nerd, I want to chat about graphic novels & books with you!

Do you have friends that you think are inspiring and deserve to have more exposer online? Recommend someone for future Motivational Mondays in the comments below or email me at


  1. Aww! That wedding proposal is adorable! Great interview Zoe!